tv White House Chronicles PBS January 30, 2011 9:00am-9:30am EST
>> hello, i'm llewellyn king, the host of "white house chronicles," which is coming right up. and what a show do i have for you today. a very special program, a little different from the usual. we're going to look at the future of energy. especially, but not limited to, the future of electricity. the government's role in putting money into a thing called the smart bread, how that's going, what it is. and just at the wonder of electricity in our society that we depend on so much.
it is a subject of great interest to politicians, and of course to us. without it, i need not tell you, you wouldn't be watching this program. we will be right back. >> "white house chronicles" is produced in collaboration with whut, howard university television. and now, your program host, nationally syndicated columnist llewellyn king, and co-host linda gasparello. >> hello again and thanks so much for coming along. i promised you some great people who know a great deal about energy and here they are. the editor of the "energy daily" and in the interest of true confession i founded that paper many years ago but no longer am affiliated with it. and who used to be assistant
deputy secretary in the reagan administration i believe. >> deputy assistant secretary. >> too many words, simplify it. don't you know in engineering when it's got too many parts, it's not ready yet. >> that's only part of my title. >> and my friend mark goldsmith of goldsmith associates. and based in boston, come down to washington to enlighten us about life up there in the cold north where we're actually freezing here. do you believe in climate change? what is changed down here? >> i believe in climate change, but it's definitely a changing climate. >> george, we hear all the time about smart grid. you cannot go to a meeting, often cannot turn on television.
everybody's is a different thing, a different concept of what it means. simply what is the smart grid? >> well, i think it's basically an initiative to make the whole electricity system more efficient, more responsive to people. i think initially seeing it in the smart meters where it's really a method in terms of people being able to to monitor their electricity usage for their bills. but it can have more in terms of really changing the way society is going to work in terms of basically just energy usage, much more energy-efficient. >> will these cost us less or will these reforms cost us more? >> i think we're in the early investment stage of it where there's a great deal of up front
equipment cost and very, very complex software changes and other things, information technology changes. and the customer is really not going to see the benefit for many years. i think this is the challenge that the industry and the regulators are facing in sort of rolling this out. i think for the average person you may not see a change in the way your bill comes in or see real options and do things you can do for a couple of years i would say. >> mark, how do you define the smart grid? >> i define it in simple terms, going from anna faris log environment to a digital environment. we go to one that's solid state and have all of those advantages. we can talk between the utility and the customer and the customer may eventually be able to talk back to the utility through its own electric system. >> wait a minute, that thing on
the side of the house, in the flower bed, where the man comes and the dog chases him, that's all going? >> that will go. >> and in the kitchen, with someone like that, presumably in the kitchen -- >> or any computer or over any of your hand held or mobile devices, you'll be able to look at how your house is functioning. >> and they're able to look at you. >> not quite. you have to give them permission to look at you, but will they will know is that hour by hour -- >> they will look if they can. >> yes they will. >> and they will know a lot of things about you like when you take a shower and what the time of somebody arriving the front door and the shower going on is and they'll speculate all about your life, right sfr right? >> i think what we'll look at is how you use energy over time with the goal of reducing that
big air conditioning peak or the heating peak. we can do that, the price of electricity goes way down. that last kilowatt that's used to make the last bit of air conditioning during the summer, particularly washington to name a few warmer spaces, we can do that, the price of electricity will go down. the interesting part, building on what george said is, we know that smart grid and meter's certain benefits for the utility. certain benefits for the customer. there's a whole set of benefits like we're finding out with a smartphone that we didn't even think about. there's a half a million apps for the smartphone. there could be a half a million apps for the smart grid or uses for the smart grid. >> it does mean you've allowed a spy into the kitchen. just going through a period where we're finding that the government, since 9/11 has put billions of dollars into spying on us.
and isn't this a tool you're handing to them inside your home? >> i don't think so. i think we're very careful about how we handle our smartphone records. we'll do the same with the electric grid. >> are we so careful? are we so careful? i'm not sure. i think this is going to happen, but i do think it's something people need to be well aware of. this wire goes both ways. you speak to the utility, the utility looks at you. we've been able to interrogate downed wires for decades. >> this has been going on with people signing up for voluntary programs to allow them to turn off their electricity, their air conditioning in times of peak demand. the reality is that it's taking the investment of billions of
dollars of stimulus money and now the smart grid meets a new house majority. the focus on the dollar. so the question is whether this goes beyond the initial incubation area. >> about $6 billion is being put by the government into smart grid. that is not chump change. even in these days when we talk about trills. six billion is real money. >> well not only that, the new congress is going to be looking at the oversight. what was the return on the investment just by subsidizing meters and homes which it was largely and initially. or is it really a return on investment? >> we have an extraordinary number of utilities in this company. most public, and very small. but about 18 very large
commercial utilities where most people buy their electricity. why do they need the government to put in their next branch of equipment? >> i think we'll be hearing that question a lot on capitol hill in the next few months. >> i put the same question to you, sir. >> i think there's a good deal of public benefit to it. if you buy into the notion that using less energy benefits us all by reducing pollution and the need to build power plants and things that people don't want, i mean this is a way, the traditional way the government uses to make them do something they otherwise would not do. >> doesn't this point out a lack of competition in the utility business? the government has to nudge it? the government doesn't have to nudge apple to come out with a new gadget. it doesn't have to nudge motorol afternoonmotorrola to come out
with a better phone. there's something stable about the leck prick spry? >> i don't think it's different from what would be called less than people make the argument across the board. i remember writing a story about the government giving wal-mart money to put solar ables on its store. why does wal-mart need federal money to do this? >> it brings up the question of what is the government's role in all sorts of things? we say we're allowed prices, a will investigate drugs, but if there's no pill, they're not terribly interested. i've been doing a lot of research on chronic fatigue syndrome. one of the problems is the big drug companies cannot see a pill at the end of the line. what do you think about this, mark?
>> well, remember that this is a matching grant program, so the utilities are putting six billion of their own in of the additional funding going in. i think about all the savings that start to accrue. every time you move from one house to another, the utility company today has to send a truck out to read the meter, and then when the new person comes in, they send another truck out to read the meter. there's a lot of gasoline, there's a lot of energy, there's a lot of cost to doing that. now i press a button on the console and i can do that remotely. so i don't have to send that truck out anymore. >> everybody has avoiding by constructing that -- >> i think that's the bonus. i think i can make the business case that this is a value to the consumer and the utility, and the bonus is exactly as you say david, it's all of the savings in generation and generation cost supply reduced. so there's a double savings
there. they're not going to get -- >> people actually keep these savings. don't they put in more display lights outside and do things, buy a mcmansion and have the lights blazing all night? in texas, the consumption of electricity went up because of the mcmansions. >> well, isn't that free enterprise though? >> government causes you to get some money so you can spend it in a rather foolish way. is that a free enterprise? >> i think the free enterprise is the part that electricity does good things. if i can find more good things that it does. remember back when we washed clothes by hand. now we put it in an electric washer and electric drier and people are free from doing that. >> i want to come back to that, but first of all i would like to remind our listeners of sirius x.m. radio, they're listening to "white house chronicles" with myself llewellyn king, george
lobson's, david blee former executive in the department of energy, and mark goldsmith of mark goldsmith associates who will, if you ask him, give some sort of smart meter, i think. so mark is in this business. we're also, this programming can be seen around the world on the stations, the english language stations, the voice of america, and on 400 local stations in the u.s., large public stations and small public access stations. marvelous mix of those stations. george, who is winning in this smart meter world? what part of the country is it working in? or has it come that far yet? >> well again, i think we're at the early stages. i think california has many other energy and environmental issues sort of ahead in terms of the actual insulation of the
smart meters which are really sort of the building block of the whole system in terms of the capabilities that people foresee. so again, it's nationwide, you're seeing it in all regions. but i did want to make one other point about this. i don't think it's just an energy efficiency argument for this. i mean if you look at the electricity grid as being visital to national security, which it certainly is, there many aspects of the smart grid which are aimed at sort of aiding national security in terms of making the grid easier to control, to isolate outages so you don't see black outs that ripple through. ironically of course because they're using many more wireless devices, it's opening up more cybersecurity issues. it's a mixed bag. i think that's another important issue of modernizing something which is really central to national security and our way of life. >> can i ask a pathetic sort of
left-wing question? what happens to the meter readers? where do these poor people who tramp through the flowers and the snow and been biten by the dog or at least in the case of my dog, almost licked senseless. >> probably the most asked question about smart grid is what happens to the meter readers. and the meter readers actually go to higher value jobs. they get absorbed in different jobs within the utility. they're still servicing and testing meters. they still do other things within the utility. we're not going to throw them out to the wolves, so to speak. >> one of the important things is that the jobs are not jobs with dignity, whether you climb a pole to fix a wire, a very dangerous, difficult skilled profession. even reading meters has a decent dignity. where as many of the new jobs that replace generally in society, like flipping
hamburgers and fast food have no dignity. the school of thought which is one of the things, just one of the things that contributed to the collapse of the south bronx years ago when they just imploded as a living area with every kind of crime was the automation of the elevators in manhattan where those wonderful 40,000 people, they didn't make a lot of money. but they were taking up famous people. they were proud, it was a place of dignity. it was work they could be proud of as the automated elevators came in, they began to be replaced by different people, security people, et cetera. but the great operator of the elevators mostly lived in the south bronx lost all their dignity. that's a very important thing as we move towards a very technological society generally. does the replacement work have the dignity. if there is replacement work. what do you think?
>> well, the good news on the electricity front except in times of recession or times, it's a growth industry. so as the economy fuels here, hopefully utilities are big companies. there are opportunities for these people. but i do think though if you're worrying about this being anti-jobs, being government intrusion, that california is the poster boy and it's part of the same luss recovery, i would say the road ahead is pretty rocky in terms of government's involvement in this smart grid endever. i think it has to get on its own two feet. and we'll see through this first wave whether, obviously we have to be smarter about the grid. there are a lot of money that can be saved here and we can be much more efficient. i think the jobs is just part of it. >> what is the point, if i may george. 50% of our electric utility work
force is within about 10 to 15 years of retirement. so we need to have the work force. there's no question in mind that in my mind that these people will get elevated in the jobs. we're going to have to do a lot more training in both the utility industry and our work force in general because our jobs are requiring higher and higher skill levels to do that. those are dignified jobs. those aren't the minimum wage jobs. those are jobs that are going to require skills, and as david just said, big companies like that can afford to do the training. can afford to do the pieces that are necessary to move these people up a level. and i think that's what's going to happen. >> i interrupted you for station identification, but you were about to say that electricity in the home does wonderful things. it stops, in fact it liberated women in many ways. >> and it's still liberating us. to do higher value and better things. used to have to go off to a
library. i was looking for a word this morning, click, click on the computer, and engineers are not good with words. you journalists are far better than we are. >> i've known some enormously articulate engineers. >> but you think of what the electric vacuum, the electric washer, the computer, the electric handtools. i was putting up pictures the other day. i pulled out my little battery charged electric screw driver, zap, zap it was done. it's freedom generating. when you look at the third world countries that only have an hour or two of electricity and what is it used for? hopefully used for water pumping or sanitation because those are the life-extending parts of electricity that we kind of forget about because they're so imbedded. we don't think when we turn that tap that it's a powered pumping
system and it cleans the water. reverse osmosis, all those technologies that are driven to do all these fabulous things for us. >> mark made the point before about the smartphone when you embarricaded on smartphones but didn't really understand all the changes, ramfications and other spinoff applications and growth that would be associated with them. i think the same with the smart grid. you're going to see a lot of invasions that are really going to generate jobs, different industries. i mean i'm already seeing a lot of software companies coming in with new applications that have to be developed and serviced and installed. and you know, some of them are pretty interesting. one of them came in and said well you know how you use your car beeper key to shut your car door. imagine you can seat your car beeper key, when you leave your house, it will put them on the off button.
so when you hit the key, your house turns off, you save all the money. but imagine all the engineering and marketing jobs that will be generated by this invasion. >> think about what society saves by not wanting to go -- think about all the anxiety we save by not wanting to turn around and turn the stove off? >> if you are depending upon electricity like i am for everything, water pump. we have two horses, the water feeder, you always wonder, is the electricity still on because if it's not, we've got big problems. i want to ask you about the government. the government has its hands all over energy. there are all kinds, not necessarily the obama administration. there are tax breaks, there are incentives, there are dictates,
renewable energy portfolios where they say you have to have x amount of energy. generated in this particular way. how much government is there and how much better would it be without if that's your point of view? >> well i mean, it's totally interlinked. there have been massive amounts of incentives and funding that has gone over the last 30 years. in fact, you know, nuclear always has the wrap of being the most heavily subsidized, but the fact of the matter is a recent study showed over the last 30 years it only had received about 9% with 87% going to fossil, or about 77% going to fossil. and about 9% to hideo. actually in the last couple of years, things have really turned around. between 2005 and the stimulus, about $16 billion has gone to
the renewable side with, i guess $20 billion to nuclear and a fair amount to fossil. so there is some talk now certainly of a -- basically cutting off the government's spending. i think looking at putting everyone on a level playing field. the question is whether this white house will change course. because you know, it is curious. they've spent the last couple of years entirely laser focused about 4% of the electrical grid, which is the solar and wind. and trying to grow that. where as the rest of the grid, some extent there's been some outlines for nuclear and the thing called project 4,. but the fact of the matter is, they've done this at a time -- >> can we just clarify the terms
here, controversial but very effective. carbon is capturing what comes out of a power plant and putting it in the ground. >> to remove the co2. so the real question coming now is what direction the obama administration will go. they're very, they're working on fumes with their last stimulus money. they've got again the new house majority that is not inclined. but what i think we'll see more again is levelizing the playing field. i think that's frankly as far as the principle base load power sources. >> would we not all of us, would we not be better off if we stop all the sub si dis, all the tax breaks and found out what the sources of energy really cost and which runs the market can honestly favor? >> i don't agree. and i don't necessarily think that this is that different.
if you look at the history of nuclear power, the government essentially played for the first few reactors to be built to prove the concept. then industry stepped in. i think major technological integration, where we are now in terms of our level of technological development, it requires this kind of government stimulus i think. and again, i don't really think you can see where it leads. again, i see in the area of solar, not competitive now. but you're seeing for the first time big companies, i.b.m., real experts in terms of technology. we did a story about i.b.m. developing a new solar panel that's much, much more efficient. who knows where that can lead. >> i kind of agree with george. i think we need some discipline. i think what would help the issue is what i call the sears test. if i can buy it off the shelf, if someone will sell it to me
commercially, give me a price, give me a warrant, it's commercial. and we ought to stop subsidizing at that point. but to george's point which is a well taken point, we need the government to basically do that basic and initial development to move these new energy sources. i would have seen a liquid metal move forward and it would have taken government funding to do that. we would have had better technology for solar technology for the central receiver secology. there were multiple uses for that kind of government r & d sub si di. we just need the discipline, when sit enough, when sit now commercially available, the sears test and move on >> it's like death and taxes and appears to be in trouble. the very brief time we have available, hen are we going to
see universally deployed electric vehicles? anybody? mark? >> probably not for another five years out. there's an article in today's paper about the 20,000 lease vehicles that were supposed to be out that are now delayed several months. i think we need a major change in the automotive thinking around electric vehicles to really have a large saturated electric vehicle technology. and we need it in a hurry. >> what do you think? >> i think we sustain $150 per barrel of oil, i think people move in that direction. now whether it will be sustained, but when the e.i.a. is predicting over $100 and dramatic growth coming from china and elsewhere, i think that you're right now in the process seeing a growth. i think what's the tipping point? the tipping point is about four dollars.
>> this is the tipping point for the show. we have to leave. we'll bring you back to hear more at what the tipping point is. we're always interested. thank you f coming along. we'll be back next week. you can look at us on w hchronicle.com. you can hear us on sirius xm radio. until then, cheers. >> "white house chronicle" is produced in collaboration with whut, howard university television. from washington, d.c., this has been "white house chronicle" a weekly analysis of the news with insight and a sense of humor futuring llewellyn king, linda gasparello and guests. this program may be seen on pbs stations and cable access channels. to view the program on line, channels. to view the program on line, visit